Paris, Texas + Streamers
The Criterion Collection, $39.95
Shout! Factory, $19.99
Many of the scruffy film mavericks of the ’70s stumbled awkwardly into the big, bad ’80s. For every George Lucas or Steven Spielberg (directors who thrived on hugeness and mainstream instincts), there were ten Francis Ford Coppolas or Peter Bogdanovichs: visionaries destined to see their freedoms curtailed.
Invariably, almost all of the latter turned to the small-scale virtues of theater, where the scope was more intimate—and less expensive. Now on DVD come two fascinating examples of the trend: Robert Altman’s tense 1983 soldier story, Streamers (based on David Rabe’s Broadway sensation), and Wim Wenders’s 1984 estrangement saga, Paris, Texas (coscripted by Pulitzer-winning playwright Sam Shepard).
Altman is the prime example here: After the debacle of his strenuously unfunny Popeye (1980), he shifted almost exclusively into adapting plays. Streamers isn’t the best effort from this period—his one-man Nixon psychodrama, Secret Honor, is shockingly daring—but it shows the director sharpening his gift for getting nuanced performances in the crucible of a single barrack, with a pre- Birdy Matthew Modine turning in terrific work. Shout! Factory’s disc includes a video reminiscence from Modine and others, speaking to the pleasures of working with Altman in such a concentrated space.
Paris, Texas, meanwhile, represents Wenders rebounding from a disastrous collaboration with Coppola, of all people, on 1982’s Hammett. The lovely movie, scored by Ry Cooder, reflects the German director’s fascination with the American road and also highlights Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski in superb turns. Criterion’s two-disc edition is extremely valuable, with lots of footage of Wenders reclaiming his love of filmmaking.